What’s in the Glass?
Wine and spirits myths demystified
By Jay Fletcher
Jay Fletcher is known around the world for his passion for and knowledge of wine. The Aspen-based master sommelier is currently board chairman of the Court of Master Sommeliers American Chapter and executive director of fine wine for Southern Wine and Spirits of Colorado. Here he answers your most pressing questions on wine for edibleASPEN.
Q: I receive wine from wineries in California and other places. Is there any truth to the notion of bottle shock? Do you have any suggestions on how long the wine should rest before opening? Why do wines need to “rest” after shipping?
A: “Bottle shock” is a mystery but certainly not a myth. A couple of days usually does the trick.
Q: I’ve been hearing a lot about wines from the Ribera del Duero region of Spain. Why all the excitement?
A: The Ribera del Duero is home of the most famous of all Spanish wines, Vega Sicilia. Vega is old-school, world-class wine made from Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon. The Vega Sicilia Unico is aged for 10 years before release. Many of the lesser wines of the region are great values and deliver rich, full wines at an affordable price point.
Q: Occasionally I enjoy Scotch with ice, but I feel guilty about doing so as I have always heard that Scotch should only be consumed neat or, at most, with a little water. Should I continue to feel guilty? Are there any good Scotches that either improve with ice or that I can enjoy guilt-free with ice?
A: Guilt is something that someone should never experience consuming fine beverages, unless they have consumed too much. Go ahead and enjoy your Scotch any way you like it.
Q: My mother is visiting for the holidays. She loves white Zinfandel.
I loathe it. Is there a good wine that meets in the middle?
A: White Zinfandel is really pink and, most often, sweet. A lot of people like the sugar. If you want a wine that has a little sugar but is of high quality, try a nice Riesling from the Mosel or a demi sec Vouvray from the Loire. Your mother will like it and you will too.
Q: I am a relatively knowledgeable layperson and have taken a few wine courses (college, seminars, etc.). I don’t want to enter the wine business, but I would like to expand my knowledge beyond relatively simple introductory wine courses. Do you have any suggestions on books, seminars or courses of study?
A: I highly recommend the Court of Master Sommeliers Introductory Course. It is a two-day wine class that covers the basics of tasting and viticulture, as well as short seminars on all of the major wine regions of the world. Wines are tasted every few hours and all of them are tasted blind to improve your tasting skills. The courses are taught all over the United States and can be booked online at www.mastersommeliers.org. I think it is the best two-day wine class in America.
Q: At this past Food & Wine fest, I took a class with Paul Grieco, who tried to convince me of the merits of a $100 bottle of wine that tasted, in my opinion, downright awful. Why would anyone buy wine that is unpalatable? How do these so called “on the edge” vintners survive?
A: Well, I don’t know the wine you tasted but obviously you did not like it or see the value of it. The beauty of the wines of the world is that there are many others to choose from. The key to understanding your own palate is to break down the wine structurally so that you can understand why you did not like it. Then you can avoid those types of wine in the future.
Q: I love French wines and my favorite is Burgundy because it goes well with chicken or beef, while it is also good with fish. I am aware that the best year of Burgundy production was 2005. Are there any other Burgundys out there that come close, and if so, what year was it produced?
A: 2005 was a really good year for red and white Burgundy and many of the wines produced from that vintage were outstanding. Other recent outstanding vintages to look for are 2002, 2008 and 2009.
Q: Do you have any guidelines or advice for storing nonvintage Champagne? Are there nonvintage Champagnes that improve with proper storage or should all nonvintage Champagne be consumed shortly after purchase?
A: I prefer to drink them fresh. I like the lively acidity and clean finish. If I want older white wines I drink Burgundy or wines from Alsace or Germany. If you really want to age and store Champagne, buy only the best vintage Champagne from the best producers. They will improve with age but lose a little fizz.
Q: Dessert wines sound like a recipe for a headache. What’s your take on them?
A: Dessert wines all have sugar in them. Fortified wines like port and madeira have sugar and elevated levels of alcohol. If you drink too much at the end of a meal you are upping the alcohol ante as well as adding sugar into the mix. You need to drink a lot of water or you will feel it the next day for sure.
Q: Is now a good time to start investing in wine? How do I start?
A: If you want to invest in wine you need to know the game and know when and how to buy and sell. Right now is a great time to buy collectable wine because the market is soft and there are some great values out there. Only buy the best and most classic estates. Classified growth Bordeaux from great vintages is always a solid bet as long as you pay the right price.
Q: What do you think of wine-of-the-month clubs? Are they worth it? Do any stores in the Roaring Fork Valley provide a service like this?
A: I think wine-of-the-month clubs are fun for people who want to try new things and do not want to think about it. I prefer to ask my local shops and restaurants what they think is hot and go with a more personal selection from the people who are tasting every day. They rarely steer you wrong.
Q: Do you think that cutting the metal foil on the wine bottle above the lip (of the neck of the bottle) changes the flavor and quality of the wine by allowing metal shards and metal to touch the wine?
A: The Court of Master Sommeliers recommends cutting the foil at the second lip of the bottle and cleaning the glass before pouring. This eliminates any mold or bacteria that may be hiding under the foil and ensures that the wine is the only thing that enters the glass.